Boracay closure necessary for unhampered rehab work, and here’s why

abs cbn photos beachfront pipe

It’s week one since Boracay was closed to tourists and non-residents, and already DPWH technical crews have discovered a pipe along the beach that is discharging untreated waste water into the sea. In simple terms, this is like a food tube directly emptying its nutrients — human waste is a feast food for algae — into the beaches of Boracay. It confirms what many have suspected all along: that fecal matter isn’t properly deposited in septic tanks and the water it mixes with doesn’t undergo treatment and cleaning before being released out to sea.

Such work, which is like looking for needles in haystacks, could not have been accomplished if Boracay remained open to tourists as what some sectors have demanded. The measure imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte was too harsh, they argued, and only establishments found to have violated the laws, especially with respect to the water and clean air acts, should have been padlocked.

They missed the whole point. The work that needs to be done is Herculean. And for the government to carry out the mission swiftly is give the agencies involved freedom of movement and action, with not a single hindrance, to do it. How could the engineering crews have unearthed the pipes buried under the sand if there were thousands of tourists enjoying the sun, and the green algae?

We don’t know just how many such pipes have been buried, and hidden, under the sun. It’s possible there are quite a number that were buried deep and the end part far out into the sea to avoid discovery. And then there are the drainage issues that impact on flooding, and the possible trespassing on wet lands and other public spaces.

Clearly, closure was the best course of action, and we are just starting to see why.

Sweetheart deal

Anytime soon — if it hasn’t happened yet — the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) will award the management contract for the soon-to-be-finished Iloilo Convention Center at the Iloilo Business Park of Megaworld Corp. in Mandurriao, Iloilo City.

The management of the ICC, which is expected to be finished at a “reduced” budget of P679 million by late June this year, is one of the conditions set by Megaworld when it donated the 1.7-hectare lot to the Department of Tourism as site of the facility.

And guess who will be the ultimate contractor to manage the ICC?

No other than Megaworld Corporation.

It will be a classic case of Megaworld having its cake and getting to eat it, too. It donated land which it bought at P2,500 per sqm. between two of its five-star hotels, Richmonde Hotel and Marriot Inn. Its act of “generosity” will reap enormous returns because it will now have a convention center at no cost to the company.

This was made possible, of course, by its benefactor, Senate President Franklin Drilon, who packaged the transaction that would cost the national government a whooping P679 million! It is a scam that is not likely to be investigated in earnest until a new administration comes along. As it is, Drilon enjoys the full protection of the “matuwid na daan” President, Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.

But no matter how Drilon tries to deodorize the transaction, it is so rotten that its stink could be smelled as far away as Boracay, where I am writing this piece. Quite a number of people I met here groaned in dismay when the conversation turned to the ICC. That’s because the construction boom in Boracay hasn’t abated, and businessmen here know what it costs to build huge hotels and resorts. One businessman told me, “With that amount, I could have built a convention center with a five-star hotel.”

Hence, Megaworld will get the better end of the bargain when the ICC is completed, one that will be the envy of other big developers like SM and Ayala. It gave DOT a design for the ICC and it is getting it at no cost. All it needs to do is making a semblance of giving government a share of the income. With the ICC, it can market its two five-star hotels as venue for large national and international conventions. It is being handed over by the DOT on a silver platter.

The graft cases I filed against Drilon et al are now in the final evaluation stage in the Ombudsman. Am I confident that the Ombudsman will hold the principal characters culpable for the litany of violations of the government procurement law and anti-graft and corrupt practices act? Ultimately, the Ombudsman will be compelled to charge them. But maybe not soon enough. The Ombudsman is pre-occupied with running after the Binays.

The facts, and the law, are on my side. That’s the reason I can confidently say the Ombudsman will ultimately indict the respondents. The violations of law and policy are so glaring, and the defenses put up by the respondents have been weak. Most of them attacked me for supposedly saying I had no evidence when I appeared before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee four months ago. Unfortunately for them, it’s not what I said that matters to the Ombudsman. It’s the evidence on the record.

In this case, I was able to turn the table around and used their own documentary evidence against them. This is the beauty of the law. Innocent-looking documents submitted by your opponents can prove more lethal to them. I take great pride in waging this battle because I was pitted against the best lawyers in the country. For a non-lawyer, it flatters me to be able to cause seasoned lawyers consternation and great labor.

There’s nothing I can do to stop the transaction. Drilon, in his speech during the Dinagyang, arrogantly boasted that no Ilonggo can derail his pet project. Of course, it wasn’t the project that I intended to stop. It was the wanton plunder that took place in the guise of implementing the project.

I am now just awaiting the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City to set my arraignment on the four counts of libel that Drilon filed against me. Facing Drilon’s libel charges against me is the greatest challenge ever to confront me. But I am not afraid. I know I am in the right. In the end, truth will triumph, and justice will be mine.

Ombudsman directs Mejorada, 2 Cabinet men and others to file position papers in ICC case

OPEN LETTER TO SENATOR T.G. GUINGONA III

Sir:

“Reject all forms of corruption that diverts resources from the poor.”

Those words were heard all across the nation from Pope Francis during his visit to the Malacanang Palace last Friday and reported extensively in mainstream and social media in the days afterwards.

I believe these words become more relevant to the work of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee which you chair.

On November 13, 2014, the Blue Ribbon Committee opened its investigation in aid of legislation into the alleged overpricing and other anomalies in the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center.

I believe it is the supreme duty of the Blue Ribbon Committee to pursue this investigation with a deeper sense of purpose and objectivity. The hearing on November 13, 2o14 barely scratched the surface of the anomalous transaction. Partly, it’s because the evidence I possessed at the time were circumstantial in nature. Second, there was palpable maneuvering by certain Senators, including Senate President Franklin M. Drilon, to prevent its Honorable Members from being able to fathom its depth and magnitude through the questioning of resource persons.

I appeal to you, Mr. Chairman, to give justice to the Filipino people, especially the poor, by ignoring party loyalty and bring to light the full scale of what is perhaps the biggest single instance of corruption in Philippine government. The Iloilo Convention Center is a giant monument of greed and lies, an ugly icon of the worst corruption that mars the platform of “matuwid na daan” upon which this Administration stands on.

I will come before this Honorable Blue Ribbon Committee with concrete evidence of how the fraudulent scheme was carried out, much of which came from the major players in the project. The evidence will establish beyond doubt how the ICC was used as a tool to divert and embezzle public funds from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). It will demonstrate how DAP was indeed prone to abuse and misuse, which was the primary reason it was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional and illegal.

With more certainty, I will show how the Government Procurement Reform Act was violated not just once, nor twice, but even thrice or more just to bring this evil plot to fruition. I will expose the lies and deceptions peddled by high-ranking public officials to cover up their flagrant acts of breaking the law. And with the power of subpoena wielded by this Honorable Blue Ribbon Committee, more documents to complete the true picture can be unearthed.

The Filipino people deserve to know the truth, Mr. Chairman. Please do not allow the Honorable Blue Ribbon Committee to be used as shield for the corruption it is mandated to expose, denounce and prevent by strengthening our laws. It has a sacred duty to expose corruption in all fronts, and not just confine itself to those committed by enemies of this Administration. Corruption wears all sorts of color and labels, and Liberal Party is not spared from this handiwork of the devil.

The nation puts much faith in your shoulders, Mr. Chairman. Please do not shirk from this responsibility. The very survival of this nation is at stake. The liberation of the poor from the bondage of poverty rests upon you.

Very respectfully yours,

MANUEL P. MEJORADA

Don’t blame me, Mr. Senate President

I find it pathetic for Senate President Franklin Drilon to blame me for any delays in the completion of the Iloilo Convention Center.

I did nothing to stop the project. All I did was file a case before the Ombudsman. It’s not my fault that the procurement and implementation of this project is fraught with violations of the law. The bidding was rigged, and the project is overpriced. Am I to be blamed for these irregularities?
The Senate President should stop blaming anybody else. It’s his fault. He engineering everything.
And why must contractors be afraid to join the bidding? In his statement before the Blue Ribbon Committee, Efren Canlas of Hilmarcs Construction Corp. said he didn’t join the first bidding for Phase II because he found the approved budget for the contract too low. That is perhaps the reason why contractors aren’t taking part in the bidding.
Definitely, it’s not my fault that Canlas and other contractors look at it that way.

A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES

In 2013, as Senate President Franklin Drilon poured more than P2 billion into roads and bridges for Iloilo City, he set aside a measly P50 million for the retrofitting of the Ramon Avancena Hall of Justice after it was damaged by the February 6, 2012 earthquake.
Drilon ignored the pleas of judges, prosecutors, lawyers and the general public to demolish the building because it was condemned as structurally weak, and posed a danger to its occupants, and build a new one.
Drilon said there was no money.
But only 3 kilometers away, Drilon was pouring P153 million per kilometer on a road widening project which most Ilonggos felt wasn’t even necessary.
He didn’t find it important enough that lives are at stake.
Anyway, the retrofitting was completed early this year. Is the building now safe?
Judges, prosecutors, lawyers, court personnel and litigants who have to work under its roofs are not convinced.
They are complaining that the same swaying motions of the floor that was observed before the February 6, 2012 earthquake could still be felt. Cracks have started to be noticed in critical parts of the building.
Drilon should pray that Iloilo City won’t be hit by a strong earthquake.

Ombudsman seeks COA help in graft probe on Drilon project

Ombudsman seeks COA help in graft probe on Drilon project

NEWS RELEASE

The Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas has asked the Commission on Audit (COA) in Region VI to undertake an audit of the P33.9-million contract to build the Esplanade II project along the Iloilo River which is alleged to be overpriced and the public bidding rigged.

In a 1st Indorsement dated May 6, 2014, Deputy Ombudsman Pelayo Apostol forwarded the complaint of Iloilo journalist Manuel “Boy” Mejorada against Senate President Franklin Drilon and key officials of the Department of Public Works over alleged violations of the government procurement reform law and the anti-graft and corrupt practices act.

Apostol addressed the request to COA VI regional director Evelyn P. Reyes. A copy of the transmittal letter was furnished Mejorada as the complainant.

In his complaint, Mejorada said the DPWH Bids and Awards Committee made a mockery of R.A. 9184 which established guidelines on the conduct of public biddings for government procurement.

Mejorada said that on the face of the information he obtained from the website of the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS) on the contract, the bidding process was “rigged” with the winning contractor submitted an offer which is only 0.12% below the approved budget for the contract.

The DPWH had set an ABC of P33,950,000 for the development of a 700-meter long embankment on the Molo side of the Iloilo river.

Roprim Construction, which had also been awarded the contract for Esplanade I, submitted a bid of P33,908,791.50, which is just P41,208.50 lower than the ABC. Mejorada said this is an incredible winning bid, as it almost hit the ABC by a hairline difference.

Mejorada said the public bidding was apparently manipulated to favor Roprim Construction, which he described as a favored contractor of Drilon. This is the same contractor that cornered the overpriced Esplanade I two years ago at a total cost of P83.5 million.

On Sept. 10, 2013, Mejorada also filed a graft case against Drilon and the DPWH BAC before the Ombudsman for the apparent ghost implementation of a P13.5 million PDAF disbursement AFTER the project was already completed and inaugurated.

Moreover, the contract price for the project is overpriced by about P20 million, he said.

In addition to these “glaring anomalies”, Mejorada said the DPWH violated the revised implementing rules and regulations of R.A. 9184 with its failure to post the notices of award and to proceed to the contractor within the prescribed number of days.

He said this was done to hide the contract from other interested bidders.

Mejorada said Drilon is being implicated in this case because he is the prime mover for the development of the project. The project was funded from the controversial Development Acceleration Program (DAP) of the Aquino administration, he said.

The Ombudsman’s request for an audit is intended to establish the veracity of Mejorada’s claim that the contract is overpriced and that the bidding was rigged.

Aside from Drilon, Mejorada included DPWH regional director Edilberto Tayao and the entire Bids and Awards Committee of the DPWH Region VI as respondents.

The complaint was filed before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas Iloilo field office on March 27, 2014.

 

Drilon’s ‘Midas touch’

Not a few people raised their eyebrows last Sunday when Senate President Franklin Drilon boasted that by this time next year, the City of Iloilo will be inaugurating the P1 billion state of the art Convention Center at the Iloilo Business Park of MegaWorld.

It’s not because they doubted that the Convention Center will indeed by completed by then. The construction of the project has commenced on a 1.6-hectare lot at the heart of the old Iloilo airport in Mandurriao. The reaction was triggered by the amount mentioned by the Senate President as the project cost — P1 billion.

How did the project cost escalate to P1 billion?

When the project was announced back in February 2012, the estimated cost for the convention center was only P350 million. Then in the middle of 2013, the figure rose to P400 million. Towards the last quarter, it had become P470 millon. (The approved budget for the contract as advertised by DPWH was P478 million).

And now Drilon announced the total cost is P1 billion!

Nobody has bothered to tell the people the reasons for the creeping increases in cost estimates, and now this giant leap.

Perhaps it’s the product of Drilon’s “Midas touch”. It’s the same phenomenon that was observed in other infrastructure projects he initiated for Iloilo City. Of course, everybody knows the rise in prices isn’t the result of a legitimate increase in the cost of construction materials. The overprice goes to a bank account that is getting fatter and fatter and fatter every day.

It doesn’t end there. Just this morning, it was reported over RMN 774 (as disclosed by Atty. Pistong Melliza on Facebook) that the convention center, once completed and operational, will be turned over to a private entity for the management and supervision. Does this mean the government will not earn anything from its bloated P1 billon investment?

Putting safety on the line — the Iloilo Convention Center

Image

Can a famous architectural firm be engaged to do the design of a huge government infrastructure project without undergoing the procurement process prescribed by Republic Act No. 9184 and its Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations?

Apparently not.

That’s the reason the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) published an invitation for expressions of interest for the architectural and engineering designs of the Iloilo Convention Center last May 2013.

TIEZA had every right to initiate the procurement process. It was providing the funds for the project. It was the procuring entity.

However, Senate President Franklin M. Drilon had already engaged a well-known architectural firm to do the job. As early as November last year, Drilon had already announced that the firm of W. V. Coscolluela and Associates prepared the designs.

The TIEZA posted the invitation to submit expressions of interest on its website. However, somebody must have informed Drilon and called TIEZA he’s got somebody to do the job.

Today (Sept. 30), I called up the BAC of TIEZA and I was told the contract, which had an approved budget for the contract, was cancelled. The BAC secretariat didn’t know the reason for the cancellation.

And so now the DPWH is in the final stage of a negotiated procurement to work out a deal with one of the short-listed suppliers. It’s being made on the architectural and engineering designs of a company that didn’t undergo the bidding process.

To add to the mystery, the DPWH Region VI just only recently conducted a public bidding for geo-technical investigations and soil boring to determine the stability of the area where the Iloilo Convention Center will be put up.

When I revealed this over the weekend, I received information from architects and engineers that this is anomalous. It only goes to show that the structural design analysis for the plans and specifications was done without a geo-technical investigation being done first. The safety of the engineering design, especially that the superstructure will handle a heavy load of people, could not be guaranteed under the circumstances.

Will DPWH sacrifice safety just to meet the deadline for the APEC Ministers Summit in October 2015?

Drilon’s ‘golden’ watering system

It was, in the language of a government official who is an expert in the law on government procurement, “a bullet train ride” for the P13.5 million pork barrel project with a“manual irrigation system” for the Iloilo Esplanade as its centerpiece.

“Right from step one to step 10, almost every rule in Republic Act No. 9184 and its revised implementing rules and regulations were violated,” the procurement law resource person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Whoever was behind it must have been in a hurry to award the contract to a favored contractor, he said. He added that the entire procurement process took 38 days, which he likened to “a bullet train ride” because of its swiftness.02sep_1 front

The expert outlined the violations of RA 9184, which governs all procurement for supplies and services in the public sector, based on what he found out in an examination of the documents released by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Regional Office No. 6:

  • The contract was advertised through an invitation to bid on Sept. 21, 2012 even before the funds reached DPWH Region VI.

The documents show that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) issued the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) on Sept. 17, 2012. It was received by DPWH central office on Sept. 27, 2012, which endorsed it to DPWH Region VI on Sept. 28, 2012. Under the law, the funds must already be available when a project is advertised for public bidding, the expert said.

He said the prior issuance of the SARO is not required before the procurement can start when a project is listed in the agency’s annual procurement plan or APP. This project isn’t listed in the APP of DPWH, he said. When the invitation to bid was posted, the SARO was still in transit. Hence, no funds available yet at the time it was advertised, he said. “That’s putting the cart ahead of the horse,” he said.

While this is not a “fatal” flaw, he said “speaks loudly that somebody powerful is moving the project forward.”

  • The invitation to bid was not published in a newspaper of national circulation at least once because it involved a contract exceeding P5 million.

RA 9184 and its revised implementing rules and regulations imposes a requirement for publication in a newspaper of national circulation for infrastructure contracts above P5 million. The DPWH Region VI did not present any proof this was complied with. TNT Libre also verified with the digital archive of The Manila Standard Today, which was designated as official newspaper for DPWH invitations to bid, for the dates Sept. 21 to 28, and this invitation to bid did not appear on any of these dates.

  • The Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) illegally raised the approved budget for the contract (ABC) after the pre-bid conference was conducted.

The invitation to bid issued on Sept. 21, 2012 placed the ABC for the project at P10,110,640.14. But subsequently, the ABC was changed twice and raised to P13,092,238.67 through what is known as a “bid bulletin”. This is illegal, the expert said. The bid bulletin is only for purposes of clarifying the bid documents to help bidders submit a responsive offer for the contract. The ABC is determined by the agency before it is advertised for bidding. “The BAC has no power to increase or decrease the ABC,” he said.

To support his contention, he cited Resolution No. 07-2005 of the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) which oversees all government procurement activities and manages the PhilGEPS website. The resolution authorizes an “upward” adjustment of the ABC only after two failed biddings in which all submitted bids exceeded the amount, or no bids were submitted, or that a negotiated procurement after two failed biddings also resulted in failure.

“This will put the entire BAC in serious trouble,” he said.

  • The Notice of Award and Notice to Proceed to the winning contractor was not posted in the PhilGEPS website, which is again a violation of the revised implementing rules and regulations of RA 9184.

A key feature of the transparency mechanism for government procurement under RA 9184 is the posting of “milestone” events for a contract in the PhilGEPS website. The documents that must be posted on this website are the invitation to bid, bid bulletins, notice of award, contract agreement and notice to proceed. A “Certificate of Compliance” on these postings signed by Tayao and the new BAC chairman, Marilyn H. Celiz, dated June 7, 2013 show that these notices and contract agreement were not posted on the PhilGEPS website.  On the remarks column, there appeared a note that these “Cannot be posted due to changes in ABC as posted in the bid bulletins”.

These violations are “tell-tale signs” of a rigged bidding, the expert said. “One can readily see that there was an effort to conceal the bidding,” he said.